MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Suspected cartel hitmen shot dead more than a dozen police in an ambush in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, authorities said on Monday, in one of the bloodiest attacks on security forces since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office.
The ministry for public security said the attack was carried out in the municipality of Aguililla in Michoacan, a state that has long been convulsed by turf wars between drug gangs, notably the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and its enemies.
The federal public security ministry said 14 police were killed, though its Michoacan state counterpart reported that 13 officers were confirmed dead and three injured.
Photos of the crime scene published on social media showed shot-up and burning police vehicles, as well as the bodies of slain officers. They also showed large placards signed by “CJNG” left on police vehicles. They warned police not to support rival crime groups, including Los Viagras.
The ambush was an attack on the police by local gangsters, said a state official, who requested anonymity. The official confirmed the authenticity of the photos.
The Michoacan security ministry said on Twitter the state police were working near El Aguaje, north of the town of Aguililla, when they came under fire.
Three police trucks were ambushed and there was no indication that the suspected gang members had suffered casualties, the state official said.
Michoacan has for several years been a stronghold of the CJNG, which in 2015 was blamed for a series of attacks on police in the neighboring state of Jalisco as it sought to consolidate its control over drug trafficking in the region.
El Aguaje is a few miles from the state border with Jalisco.
The heavily armed CJNG has used intimidation and bribery to exercise considerable control over local law enforcement, officials say. Police salaries are often no match for the gang’s financial muscle, which in large part has been built on trafficking crystal meth.
Fifteen police were killed in a single ambush in Jalisco in 2015 during six weeks of violence that claimed the lives of more than two dozen officers and culminated in the shooting down of an army helicopter on May 1, 2015.
More than 29,000 murders, a record for the country, were registered in Mexico last year, and Lopez Obrador took office pledging to restore peace and order. But he has struggled, and the 2019 murder tally is at risk of topping last year’s total.
Reporting by Miguel Gutierrez and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Lisa Shumaker